One-third of plastic surgeons saw their income decline over the past year, but the specialty overall gained more among the 29 specialties in this year’s compensation survey.
Plastic surgeons also earned the highest salary gain last year (almost 10%) among all specialties. Otolaryngology and allergy / immunology were at the other end of the scale with a 9% loss of compensation.
The average income of plastic surgeons increased from $ 479,000 to $ 526,000, according to the Medscape 2021 Plastic Surgeon Compensation Report, a sum more than double the six specialties with the lowest earnings on the list.
Plastic surgeons took first place among orthopedists, who earned $ 511,000 this year, unchanged from the previous year.
Various reasons for the ascent
The specialty benefited from several factors from academic plastic surgeon Chris Reid, MD, in pandemic, said the assistant professor of surgery at the University of California at San Diego Medscape Medical News.
Among them, people were much more likely to work from home, and even when they were not at home they wore masks so that they could hide the signs of cosmetic surgery without taking time off.
“People freed themselves to do things in the pandemic,” he said.
Many also had more income available as activities were restricted, he said.
Reid said his own rebuilding practice had “the most productive year of last year.”
As more operating rooms were freed from the lack of elective surgeries, he said, he was able to do more reconstructive surgeries such as breast reconstructions after mastectomy.
“If you let me, it would work all the time. But I don’t have unlimited access to the operating room,” he said.
Also, because plastic surgeons often own their own surgery centers, many did not operate under the same limitations that hospitals had to stop elective surgeries, Reid said.
“Many plastic surgeons continued to operate when no one was doing it,” he said.
People who see their own image on screens with the video call boom may also have played an important role, according to report by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
Medscape previously reported that with filters and apps to enhance selfies, people can try to change their appearance, which can lead to greater acceptance of plastic surgery.
All the plastic surgeons in the survey who stated that their income decreased decreased that COVID-19 was a factor either for job loss, for fewer patients or for fewer hours. Respondents could choose more than one answer; 12% listed other non-COVID engines.
Of those who dropped revenue, about half (51%) said they expected compensation to return to pre-pandemic levels in a year; 30% said it would take 2-3 years; and 8% said they would never return to pre-pandemic levels.
Other specialties had much less lucrative years.
Pediatrics this year had the lowest compensation at $ 221,000, followed by family medicine ($ 236,000) and public health and preventive medicine ($ 237,000).
Plastic surgeons have a small demand for paperwork
Plastic surgeons were almost inferior in administrative demands. They spent 12.7 hours a week on administrative tasks, compared to 14.2 hours a week last year. This included time to enter information into electronic health records, clinical reading, participation in professional organizations, and managerial work.
In contrast, doctors of infectious diseases spent almost twice as much of this time (24.2 hours a week) on administrative tasks.
Plastic surgeons see fewer patients a week, down about 8%, from 63 to 58 per week. This was a much smaller drop than many specialties saw. For example, pediatricians recorded the largest drop (18%) followed by dermatologists, otolaryngologists, and orthopedists, down about 15%. Falling patients are often attributed to having more safety protocols and answering more questions about COVID-19.
In general, physician hours decreased for at least part of the pandemic and many were studied. But most, including plastic surgeons who now have an average of 53 hours a week, go back to the pre-pandemic hours.
Marcia Frellick is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune, Science News and Nurse.com and was editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick